Do you have a building permit? Do you even know if your project requires a building permit? Many homeowners and even some contractors complete jobs around the home without pulling permits through the city or county. These permits are put into place to provide you with some protection as a mandatory inspection is required once the job is complete.
Bypassing a permit can mean that you face large fines should you be caught, and it can mean that the company that performed the work circumvented the proper legal channels for a reason. Often, people fear the entire permit process, but it is beneficial to you to follow the proper channels to have the work done and in the end, you will feel better about it too.
Below, we will talk more about building permits and what you need to know about them. If you are unsure if your project requires a permit, you can always reach out to your local municipality to find out. The building and permitting division can assist you best.
What Exactly Is a Building Permit?
A building permit is a type of approval provided by a governmental agency that oversees and certifies work that has been performed. They check the work to ensure it is up to a certain standard. This helps to prevent subpar work from being done.
A permit is required BEFORE the work on the home begins. That means the permit needs to be applied for and issued before any repairs or alterations can be made to the home. Once the work is completed, an inspector will look at it, and if all is well, the permit will be approved and closed.
Once a building permit has been issued, it is valid for a specified number of days or length of time. You want to make sure that the work is completed within this timeframe. Of course, no need to panic as most permits are issued for a good length of time. For example, you usually need to start your project within 6 months to a year and must complete it within a year or up to 18 months.
As long as you do not pull a permit and then forget about it, you should have no problem meeting the time guidelines.
Are Permits Always Required?
No. Many homeowners think that any repair they perform around the house needs a permit or some type of inspection, but this is not the case. In fact, there are many repairs you can do without the need to ever grab a permit application even.
The rules on what does and does not need a permit will vary from each governmental entity, so you do want to familiarize yourself with your local codes. One city may require a permit and then another may not, so it can be confusing at times too.
In general, you can replace most existing elements within your home without having to get a permit. There are some exceptions to this. For example, you NEED a permit for anything that will have the structure of your home or anything that will count as a real estate improvement. Therefore, a new front door may need a permit in most areas. Placing a shed in your backyard will likely need a permit.
You are allowed to replace leaking faucets, light switches, fans, and other broken or worn out components in the home. However, adding a new room will require a permit.
Call the Permit Office
If you have a project you want to complete in your home, but you are not sure if you can, you can call your local permitting office. You do not have to give your name when you call, and you can inquire about what may or may not need a permit.
You can also check online to see if your local municipality offers information on their website about permitting. The permit office is there for a reason, and you want to make sure you make repairs in a legal manner, so never hesitate to reach out to them for some guidance.
Building Permits: The Cost
There is a cost associated with receiving a building permit but there is no one standard set fee. Permits can cost a little or a lot depending on the complexity of the project you are working on. For example, you may pay a $75 permit fee to have a new fence installed or a $1,500 permit to build a new home or structure on a new home.
In 2021, the national average cost for a permit ranged from $430 to $2,300 with an average of $1,250 per permit.
The bigger the project, the more you will spend on a permit. A contractor can give you an idea of the costs associated with a permit and will often include it in the estimate you receive. If they do not, you can inquire further with them to get clarification. In general, the costs associated with a permit are generally based on a percentage of the project’s cost.
What is an Owner Building Permit?
An owner building permit allows you to be the general contractor, which means you do not have to hire one. Homeowners who have the skills and experience needed to make the repairs themselves may want to apply for this type of permit, as you can save the amount charged by general contractors on a job.
Most local permitting offices will issue these types of permits and for a variety of jobs around your home. If you are allowed to act as your own general contractor, you are allowed to subcontract out the work too.
While this is a good option, it is not always the best choice for homeowners. Remember, if you are acting as the general contractor of your own project, then you are responsible for your project. This means you also carry much more liability, especially when it comes to issues with the project or even injuries on site. It may be better for you to hire a contractor that is licensed, bonded, and insured.
One of the most important things to know about owner building permits is that you can ONLY work on a home you own! Sometimes, the permitting office will require that you have lived in the home for a specified number of years too. It is also important to note that if the home is going to be flipped for profit, then a licensed contractor must complete the work.
Blueprints Need Approval
One of the biggest misconceptions that homeowners have is that they believe a blueprint from an architect is enough to be automatically granted a permit. It does not work this way. In fact, blueprints, even ones done professionally, need to be inspected and approved. Your local permitting office will look over the plans themselves and then let you know their decision.
It is best to wait to start a project until you have approval.
Setbacks That Can Occur
There are a number of setbacks that can arise and cause disruption to your project and the permitting process.
One setback that may occur is the easement of your property. Whenever there is a sidewalk, powerline, sewer line, or other important line that runs throughout your property, you likely have some type of easement. This is a type of legal restriction that stops you from being able to make any changes that will affect or alter these lines. In addition, there may be a section of your property that is being reserved for use for road expansion in the future. It is important to check these things out before you start the project.
Another setback is actually called a setback. This is the space between your home and the next one. These setbacks are set by the local municipality, and they help to maintain a feeling of openness and prevents crowding. For example, if you are building an extension onto your home, you may have certain boundaries to work within.
Lastly, zoning restrictions can be an issue for you, so it is important to check with the permitting office first to determine if there are any restrictions or limitations.
Inspections AFTER the Project
An inspection is required once a project has been completed if you needed a permit for the project. You never want to miss this step as it is crucial and can be quite costly if you do miss it. Depending on the type of project you had done, you may need to have a series of inspections completed. The purpose behind the inspection is to make sure that the work was done correctly and up to standards – local code.
The inspection process is usually pretty quick, and you may not even need to be present for the inspection; however, depending on your local government agency and the project completed, you may need to be present, and the inspector may want to chat with you.
Failing an inspection is possible and can happen. If you do fail an inspection, it is likely because something has been flagged. You will be informed about what the issue is and have the opportunity to correct it. The inspector will inform you as to a new date they will come out for a reinspection.
Don’t Forego the Permit
While the process may seem like it is time consuming, the last thing you want to do is forego the permitting process. This can lead to serious consequences that are just not worth the risk. A permit helps to protect you as the homeowner and ensure that your new project has been completed following local code.
If you are planning a remodel or building project, remember that a self-storage unit can be quite helpful. You can store all your items inside the unit to keep them out of the way and free from any construction dust.
If you have any questions about the permitting process, it is recommended that you call your local permitting office to inquire with them.